Marcus Hayes: Jets didn't study wildcat history

Donovan McNabb complained in 2009 that using Michael Vick as a wildcat weapon disrupted the offense.
Donovan McNabb complained in 2009 that using Michael Vick as a wildcat weapon disrupted the offense. (RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: March 30, 2012

RECENTLY, a contending East Coast football team acquired a backup quarterback with the express intent of using him as a "wildcat" weapon.

The quarterback possessed rare athletic skills, but those skills often got him into as much trouble as they helped him elude.

The quarterback's passing mechanics were flawed. His footwork was clumsy. His ability to decipher defenses was deficient.

In addition, the quarterback brought with him baggage of his own creation; baggage that he never could shake.

That baggage, along with the newcomer's raw ability, virtually assured conflict between the newcomer and the embattled, incumbent starter.

And the newcomer entered the situation with avowed designs at one day reassuming a starter's role, the sooner the better.

Things worked out pretty well for Michael Vick and the Eagles.

Don't expect the same happy ending for Tim Tebow and the Jets.

Seemingly bent on self-destruction, the Jets' latest adventure toward folly seems less necessary than any of their others. In a deal finalized Monday, they traded draft picks that brought God's most famous quarterback to the gates of Gomorrah.

The Jets are nothing if not fearless.

In 2008, they traded for unretired narcissist and accused sexter Brett Favre, to mixed and hilarious results.

In 2009, they hired Rex Ryan, whose NFL resume included leading a Ravens defense that he helped build and, earlier, getting fired in Arizona with his daddy, Buddy.

Rex Ryan and the Jets then drafted Mark Sanchez with the fifth overall pick and immediately gave him the reins. Sanchez has started all but one game since, without great distinction. Hence, he is embattled.

Last year, they welcomed former Giants star Plaxico Burress fresh from prison, frisked him, then threw him eight TD passes.

Ryan, bombastic and egomaniacal, led the Jets to the AFC title game in each of his first two seasons, but he might become embattled, too, if this quarterback situation blows up.

That could well be the case.

It's only 90 miles from Florham Park, N.J., to Philadelphia. Ryan should have made the short trip once or twice to see the mess the Eagles made trying to incorporate Vick and Donovan McNabb into a "wildcat" scheme.

McNabb complained in training camp that use of the wildcat formations with Vick disrupted offensive rhythm, even in preseason games. Yesterday, on ESPN2, McNabb said that Tebow's presence would retard Sanchez' development.

The Eagles relied heavily on the wildcat in Game 2 of the 2009 season - a withering loss to the ascending, bounty-fueled Saints. With McNabb sidelined with a cracked rib and with Vick still serving a suspension related to his dogfighting scandal, backup Kevin Kolb got his first career start. The Eagles ran 10 wildcat plays. It was absurd; veteran backup Jeff Garcia said the scheme gave Kolb no chance at being productive.

Things got no better when Vick was added to the mix.

Yes, he was out of football shape. Yes, he lacked the speed, the shiftiness, the sixth sense that made him the best running quarterback ever.

But no: He could not succeed as a wildcat weapon. No one can.

With McNabb often on the field with him, Vick managed 95 rushing yards in 24 attempts. He played in 12 games. He completed six of 13 passes.

One play resonated: His 43-yard pass to Reggie Brown in a laugher at Atlanta, a game that had long since been decided. That completion accounted for half of his 86 passing yards for that season.

Vick was an intriguing weapon inside the 10-yard line, where a defensive mistake meant six points for the Eagles. That said, Vick accounted for three touchdowns in 2009.

And we're talking about Michael Vick here. With all due respect to Randall Cunningham, Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young, none is in Vick's class.

Add to that the fact that Vick's arm strength and release (but little else) are in the class of Marino, Elway and Favre, and the threat that Tebow poses becomes laughable.

Ryan said this week that Tebow could be used as many as 20 times per game.

Can you imagine what the opposing defenses are thinking hearing that? Especially the Steelers, whose playoff run Tebow miraculously ended? Or, say, the Broncos, who spent 2 years trying to refine his slow and sloppy delivery?

Tebow, bless his Christian heart, is optimistic about the wildcat:

"It can be confusing. It can make defenses play slow," he said.

That might be true if, as was the case with Miami in 2008, a team has three legitimate ball-carrying threats in the backfield. Against a decent defense prepared to face him, Tebow is not that.

He astonished opponents with his assertive style when he took over as a starter in Game 6 last season - at Miami, ironically. His effectiveness as a runner dwindled after his first six starts.

He averaged 4.66 yards per carry in his last five starts, more than a yard less per carry than in his first six starts. The Broncos lost three of those last five starts, including the game in which Tebow's legs were most productive, gaining 93 yards on 12 carries against the Patriots.

The Patriots then stuffed him for 13 yards on five carries in their playoff matchup, a game in which Tebow completed nine of 26 passes.

That game assured Peyton Manning's new career as a Bronco. It ended Tebow's.

And began a strange, new era at the Meadowlands.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com

 

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